AP analysis: “Could it happen again? Absolutely,”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday slammed House GOP bills that would mandate much wider offshore drilling and faster development, alleging they reflect “amnesia” about the catastrophic BP well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico that’s a week shy of its one-year anniversary.
“When you have gone through a horrific national crisis, which the Deepwater Horizon was, it’s important that you learn the lessons from the Deepwater Horizon, and that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, and much of the legislation that I have seen bandied around – especially with the House Republicans – is almost as if the Deepwater Horizon-Macondo well incident never happened,” Salazar told reporters at Interior headquarters.
“We can’t afford to take that approach to the future of the nation’s energy security,” Salazar added. He said another blowout akin to the uncontained rupture of BP’s Macondo well without the capacity to contain it “would probably mean death to oil-and-gas development in America’s oceans.”
As the one-year anniversary of the BP oil disaster approaches, you can expect to see a great many stories on what we’ve learned — and what we haven’t.
I ended up doing some 245 posts on the disaster, and am pretty proud of the fact that I reported on the higher estimates of the spill rate on May 1, 2010, weeks before BP’s effort to obfuscate the truth was officially undone (see Oilpocalypse Now: BP oil disaster may be leaking at rate of 1 million gallons a day; Spill may exceed Exxon Valdez within days — not weeks).
Here are some of the more interesting stories on the anniversary, starting with the AP’s, which echoes Salazar’s warning:
With everything Big Oil and the government have learned in the year since the Gulf of Mexico disaster, could it happen again? Absolutely, according to an Associated Press examination of the industry and interviews with experts on the perils of deep-sea drilling.
The government has given the OK for oil exploration in treacherously deep waters to resume, saying it is confident such drilling can be done safely. The industry has given similar assurances. But there are still serious questions in some quarters about whether the lessons of the BP oil spill have been applied.
The industry “is ill-prepared at the least,” said Charles Perrow, a Yale University professor specializing in accidents involving high-risk technologies. “I have seen no evidence that they have marshaled containment efforts that are sufficient to deal with another major spill. I don’t think they have found ways to change the corporate culture sufficiently to prevent future accidents.”
He added: “There are so many opportunities for things to go wrong that major spills are unavoidable.”
The worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history began with an explosion April 20, 2010, that killed 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig. More than 200 million gallons of crude spewed from the well a mile beneath the sea.
Since then, new drilling rules have been imposed, a high-tech system for capping a blown-out well and containing the oil has been built, and regulators have taken steps to ramp up oversight of the industry.
But deep-sea drilling remains highly risky. The effectiveness of the much-touted containment system is being questioned because it hasn’t been tested on the sea floor. A design flaw in the blowout preventers widely used across the industry has been identified but not corrected. And regulators are allowing companies to obtain drilling permits before approving their updated oil-spill response plans….
“I’m not an oddsmaker, but I would say in the next five years we should have at least one major blowout,” Perrow said. “Even if everybody tries very hard, there is going to be an accident caused by cost-cutting and pressure on workers. These are moneymaking machines and they make money by pushing things to the limit.”
After the Deepwater Horizon explosion, oil producers including BP were criticized for errors in their federally required oil-spill response plans, such as severely underestimating the time it takes oil to reach shore.
Several of the biggest oil producers told the AP they have updated their response plans but are still waiting for them to be approved. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said it is operating under a 2002 federal regulation that allows two years to approve such plans. In the meantime, companies are allowed to proceed with their drilling applications and obtain permits as long as they certify in writing that they can handle a spill, said agency spokeswoman Eileen Angelico.
The agency “is taking the oil companies’ word for it that they can handle a spill,” said David Pettit, a senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, one of the nation’s leading environmental groups. “This is the same kind of deference to claimed oil company expertise that led directly to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
Regulators, however, point out that operators have to provide significant supplemental data before permits are approved.
To bolster their case for safer drilling, the companies can point to a new system developed by industry titans including Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell and ConocoPhillips to contain oil spills. The system includes a cap and a series of undersea devices – including cables, a riser and a piece of equipment that would pump dispersant. Lines would be hooked up to vessels on the surface.
Oil companies say the system is capable of quickly containing a blowout 8,000 feet under water and capturing as much as 60,000 barrels of oil per day. By comparison, at the height of the Gulf spill in mid-June, BP’s well was spewing some 57,000 barrels a day at a depth of 5,000 feet.
Michael Bromwich, director of the U.S. agency that regulates offshore drilling, recently acknowledged that the system was not tested in a dynamic situation – meaning in the ocean or during blowout conditions. He said such testing would be ideal, but he was still confident the system would work.
It’s worth remembering that as Rachel Maddow reported last month, Blowout preventers used in ALL deep water drilling are “fundamentally flawed by design.”
Here are more stories:
Oil & gas industry spills happen “all the time”
Next week marks the anniversary of the beginning of the BP oil disaster. It should have been a wake-up call for the industry and the federal government. Instead, spills, leaks and explosions still happen every day. A six month CBS News investigation found that spills of crude oil and toxic chemicals last year alone were three times the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill….
“Everyday there’s numerous releases happening throughout just this country,” said oil and gas safety expert Mike Sawyer. “Sometimes every couple of hours there’s a new incident.”
Report: Effects of spill will unfold over years
The effects of the BP oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico and the animals that live in it will take place over years, if not decades, a new report by a prominent environmental group says. The National Wildlife Federation said it is much too soon to make snap judgments about how much harm has been done. “Other oil spill disasters have taken years to reveal their full effects and often recovery is still not complete after decades,” the report said.
The oil spill that was once expected to bring economic ruin to the Gulf Coast appears to have delivered something entirely different: a gusher of money.
So many people cashed in that they earned nicknames: “spillionaires” or “BP rich.” Others hurt by the spill wound up getting comparatively little. Many people who got money deserved it. But in the end, BP’s attempt to make things right “” spending more than $16 billion so far, mostly on damage claims and cleanup “” created new divisions and even new wrongs.
Some of the inequities arose from the chaos that followed the April 20 spill. But in at least one corner of Louisiana, the dramatic differences can be traced in part to local powerbrokers.
To show how the money flowed, ProPublica interviewed people who worked on the spill and examined records for St. Bernard Parish, a coastal community about five miles southeast of downtown New Orleans.